By Ryan Kim, age 16, Seoul, South Korea.
The rampant spread of COVID-19 caught even the experts by surprise. Without even direct contact, by simply being in the same room together, many became helplessly vulnerable to the pandemic. In order to mitigate the spread of the virus, we all had to adapt to a new norm. As the lockdown dragged on, we became more dependent on video conferencing platforms than ever before. Applications such as Zoom have boomed over the last year, providing an alternative solution for activities that once require face-to-face interactions. Many expect that these platforms can replace the traditional interaction where physical presence was once required. Despite all the positive aspects of Zoom and similar platforms, we need to understand that these platforms are viable alternatives we have only in the context of the pandemic. They should not and can not permanently replace the traditional human-to-human interaction.
Despite the Zoom overload, the term “Zoom fatigue” is not familiar to many. In February of this year, Stanford University researchers uncovered a new phenomenon called “Zoom fatigue.” The unnatural close-ups of the face and the simultaneous view of others and self are unnatural to the human brain causing psychological overload and fatigue. Because of how Zoom became the new normal of our life, we have been inconspicuous of how dominant and fatiguing the effects are to us. Many are unaware of the feelings of exhaustion after repeated exposure to video-conferencing apps.
In this new reality, as students are Zoom’s dominant users, they are the ones that are significantly burdened with Zoom fatigue. In virtual school, every day seems quotidian and senseless, slowly yet rapidly draining the most pivotal time of our lives. The small chatter among friends before class, walking down the hallway in between classes, and even the three-dimensional experience of being surrounded by other peers seem trivial and inconsequential until they are removed. They are a big part of the mental and psychological breaks available to students as we engage in learning.
Institutions expecting students to follow along in the virtual setting with the same effectiveness and focus as the offline is similar to expecting a runner to run the same distance and pace while carrying a weight on his back. In these challenging times, there are no perfect solutions. I am not bashing platforms such as Zoom, nor am I suggesting that we should not have virtual classes. However, we do need to be aware and mindful of the new challenges we face in these alternatives. We must treasure the little things we did not notice until they became no longer available to us. Virtual interactions should not replace physical interactions. And most importantly, Zoom fatigue is not an excuse.
By Ryan Kim, age 16, Seoul, South Korea. He entered this article for the 2021 Youth Honor Awards program.
University, Stanford. “Four Causes for ‘Zoom Fatigue’ and Their Solutions.” Stanford News, 1 Mar. 2021, news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/.
Singer, Natasha. “Online Schools Are Here to Stay, Even After the Pandemic.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/04/11/technology/remote-learning-online-school.html?searchResultPosition=6.